Openreach leans on Labour party to remove broadband roadblocks for MDUs


Openreach’s parent company, BT, has lobbied the opposition party to help remove the red tape surrounding fibre deployment for multi-dwelling units (MDUs)

According to a report from the Financial Times, the UK’s largest broadband provider Openreach has held talks with the Labour party asking them to commit to legislation that would make it easier to deploy fibre broadband infrastructure in blocks of flats and other MDUs.

Currently, companies seeking to deploy their full fibre networks in an MDU need extensive permissions from the property’s landlord, known as wayleaves. Acquiring these permissions is often a lengthy and expensive process, representing a significant roadblock to fibre deployment up and down the country.

In the report, Openreach CEO Clive Selley said that acquiring wayleaves could “easily double the cost of providing fibre to a small block” of flats, arguing that the currently status quo left some of these locations “in danger of becoming part of a new digital divide”.

What Openreach is proposing is the introduction of new legislation that would expand the company’s existing wayleave agreements with the MDUs, which cover the company’s legacy copper network infrastructure already deployed in the buildings, thereby removing the need for new approvals.

This change in legislation, Openreach says, would allow them – and rival altnets also deploying fibre – to rapidly accelerate their rollouts in line with government targets.

Openreach is currently aiming to deploy full fibre to 25 million premises by 2026 and has to date passed around 13.5 million homes.

The government, meanwhile, wants to see “gigabit-capable broadband’ (primarily fibre) rolled out to 85% of the country by 2025.

While the effective removal of the majority of MDU wayleave agreements would no doubt accelerate fibre deployment, the proposal is not without its drawbacks. On a fundamental level, critics will argue that this change would infringe upon the rights of property owners and occupiers.

“Measures providing network operators the ability to enter multi-dwelling units without permission from the landlord, as proposed by Openreach, would significantly and adversely impact on the rights of property owners and occupiers,” said a spokesperson from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology in a statement.

According to Selley, Labour was “engaging and listening” to the companies request, noting that he had similarly lobbied the current the current Conservative government on the same topic.

Are wayleaves holding back the UK’s digital transformation? Join the UK connectivity industry in discussion at this year’s Connected North conference live in Manchester

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